The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, October 15, 2004

Sinclair Broadcasting and a free news media: credit where credit's due

Chances are, in a few days, the usual festival of wailing and gnashing of teeth will take place throughout New England as the Curse claims another Red Sox dash at the Yankees.

In much the same spirit comes 1,800 words of bellyaching from the Times' Frank Rich on what Big Bad George has done to the news media.

Mostly, it's self-serving bollocks: a doomed plea of duress to the charge, in particular, that his employers aided and abetted Bush's illegal Iraq invasion, and, in general, that the news media have given a stenographically supine coverage to the Administration's activity as a whole.

Just like Bush, Rich needs some Big Lies. (Or rather, manipulations of the truth.) To read his piece, one would suppose that every other administration than Nixon's and Bush 43's acted like baa-lambs to the media [1]. And that the media was doing a bang-up job before Nixon started to send round the boys. Rather than being the conformist jobsworths who kept mum over the Bay of Pigs and the escalation in Vietnam until long after it was too late to stop the lurch towards disaster.

And the analogy fails to hold in more than one respect: Rich cites the Patrick Fitzgerald investigations into Plamegate and the Islamic charities cases [2] and the FCC's campaign against broadcast indecency (much discussed here); but the media adopted their full-on kow-tow to Bush well before either of them got underway.

And - be it said - the FCC indecency campaign got bipartisan adulation. If it were simply a tool for the benefit of the Administration, why would Nancy Pelosi and those 172 Democrats in the House (March 12) have given it their seal of approval?

Even Rich talks about
a pattern of media intimidation that's been building for months now
Yet the kow-tow has been going on for years!

Of course, as described in Ken Auletta's New Yorker piece, Bush and Co have managed the national news media from the viewpoint that they have no legitimacy as representatives of their readers and viewers. And they've had the benefit of operations like that of Brent Bozell's Parents Television Council to email and fax news outlets and regulators into submission. Freepers and bloggers have acted as francs-tireurs in the battle, in cases like Rathergate.

I believe they call that politics. (Dems have found some of these techniques came in handy for post-debate spin.)

But, for Rich,
It's hard to imagine an operation more insidious than Mr. Murdoch's, but the Sinclair Broadcast Group may be it.

And part of the reason for it being insidious may be that, as he says,
this company gets little press scrutiny because it is invisible in New York City, Washington and Los Angeles, where it has no stations.

Remember the Susan Moeller analysis of Iraqi WMD coverage: she said that Knight Ridder did outstanding work, but, because none of their titles were in NYC, DC or LA, it was deemed beneath the notice of the papers there - including Rich's own, putrid New York Times.

To suggest that NASDAQ-listed Sinclair is somehow inaccessible to the Times and its fellow top papers is special pleading that insults the intelligence.

Sinclair's sin is to be partisan and widespread: thus, Stolen Honor (the latest Swiftie-style attack piece on Kerry) will be run by each of its 62 TV stations - some of which have the temerity to be located in swing states!

But he does not pause to ponder why such an enterprise was allowed to grow so powerful in the first place: the Telecommunications Act of 1996, PL 104-104, signed by Clinton, and voted for by - admire the irony! - none other than the Democratic candidate himself.

Without the Act, Sinclair would be just a shadow of its current self.

Rich's nauseating spin infantilises the media - and, by extension - those who read or view it. The part that the threat of legal coercion has played in USG news management has been small: the rest is politics and business. The Times - as I've reiterated often - chose to use felon Chalabi's fantasies because it would pay better than challenging them. The best interests of NYT Co. stockholders require a reasonably cordial relationship between the administration and the paper.

The paper could, as it did in the Pentagon Papers affair, have decided to take on USG - but it didn't. It thought the Primrose Path would pay better.

I'd hypothesise that, in recent months, media coverage has grown more hostile to Bush (Adam Nagourney and Jodi Wilgoren notwithstanding!). Yet this is precisely the period over which Rich says the pattern of media intimidation has been building!

Isn't it rather more likely that it's the fall in the value of Bush Common as the market contemplates a change of CEO that has made the media a bit more willing to challenge the the Administration?

  1. This paper (PDF) includes the tale of the DNC under Kennedy which organised a scam using the fairness doctrine to curb criticism from right-wing broadcaster, through the mechanism of the innocuous-sounding Citizens Committee for a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

  2. By name, the Global Relief Foundation and the Benevolence International Foundation.

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